Microsoft at 40: 5 Successes, 5 Failures - InformationWeek

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4/9/2015
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Kelly Sheridan
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Microsoft at 40: 5 Successes, 5 Failures

In honor of Microsoft's 40th birthday, InformationWeek reflects on the successes, failures, and lessons learned that built the company as it stands today.
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In 1975, 19-year-old Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and teamed up with his buddy Paul Allen to revolutionize the history of computing. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft was born with the mission of putting a computer in every home.

Four decades and three CEOs later, the company has evolved into an empire that continues to dominate personal computing around the world, albeit while dealing with issues of middle age. There may not be a computer in every household around the world, but Microsoft is markedly closer to achieving this goal than it was upon its inception.

The celebration of Microsoft's 40th birthday is one that marks many decades of hard work and the great triumphs and disappointing failures that came with it. After all, you don't evolve from a tiny startup to a billion-dollar enterprise without a few setbacks.

[Windows 10: Redstone Update in 2016]

We learned that when Microsoft succeeds, it makes a splash. From the inception of MS-DOS to the widely applauded Windows 95, to the current development of Windows 10, the tech giant has made clear that it's a force to be watched. Its software has become a staple of businesses and consumers throughout the world. 

However, with great success come great failures. There have been times that Microsoft has arrived too late (or too early) to the game when trying to pin down the next big tech trend. Sometimes it completely missed the mark, and consequently suffered as customers fled in favor of competitors like Apple.

In celebration of its 40th birthday, former CEO Gates wrote an email to employees running the corporation that he has since left in the hands of successors Steve Ballmer and, now, Satya Nadella as he focuses his time on philanthropic efforts. Gates briefly reflected on a largely successful history but also noted, "What matters now is what we do next."

We've spent plenty of time pondering how Microsoft's current projects will affect its future. Will Windows 10 appeal to a global audience that mostly trashed its predecessor, Windows 8? Will Windows Phone ever see growth in a market dominated by Apple and Samsung? Will Satya Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" vision carry Microsoft into a successful future?

Let's take a break from speculation and reflect on how Microsoft grew into the company it is today. On the following pages, we'll look back at some of the moments that built Microsoft -- and some products that, perhaps, should have stayed ideas.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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JerryRioux
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JerryRioux,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2015 | 5:53:14 PM
Tough Critic
Boy, you're a tough critic, Kelly.  Only five successes in 40 years???  IMHO, Microsoft had far more successes than failures over the decades.  Windows 3.1 was definitely a success - especially for those of us who'd used earlier versions of the product.  Word and Excel were clearly individual successes longer before Office arrived.  They handily toppled WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 from their thrones.  (Though, I still miss a few of WordPerfect's superior features.)  Outlook and FrontPage were also winners, though FrontPage's heydays are long gone. 

I'm also surprised that you didn't include RT on the failures list.  Though I personally love using RT, it was quite a commercial flop.
scooper612
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scooper612,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 9:27:27 AM
Missing the biggest Misses
What about BOB?  No, not the movie.....the ......well, I guess you could call it an OS.  Or, maybe not.  Either way this "front-end" geared mainly for kids completely missed the mark that others like Leapfrog have made a killing at.

But at the absolute top of my worst (and hated) list has to be Windows ME.  After they hurried the release of 98 riddled with bugs and then redeamed themselves with 98se (it was good), they then took all that was solid in 95 and 98se and completely through it out the windows (yes, pun intended) and put out the abomination they called the "Millenium Edition."  The only thing millenial about that piece of crap were the bugs and BSODs.

Great column Kelly!
Pablo Valerio
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Pablo Valerio,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 9:36:22 AM
A couple of hardware products
Kelly, 

I belive that Microsoft deserves some praise for a couple of hardware products:

1. The Ergonomic Keyboard: Introduced in 1994 was designed to help people type more naturally. It became very popular and other manufacturers started to offer similar products.

2. The X-Box: Although the console market is quite competitive MS has been sucessful in making the X-Box one of the top gaming platforms. The Xbox + Kinect combo is one of the most powerful systems you can connect to your TV.

 

 
mpineda78501
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mpineda78501,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 10:05:28 AM
where do you leave Enterprise IT tools?
MS has consistently delivered great products for IT and enterprise for decades.  Among them: Windows Server, Exchange, WSUS, SCE, SQL Server, Lync.  We should give the company more credit than just 5 successes in 40 years.  Perhaps its largest contribution to the technology industry was the standardization of platforms for developers and users in general.
rjones2818
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rjones2818,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 10:22:08 AM
What? No Windows ME?
You have to have some serious flops not to include Windows ME as a top five flop.

 

And...now that I think of it, Steve probably should have been listed as a top five flop as well.  Windows 10 is a coin flip at this time.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 10:52:50 AM
Re: Tough Critic
@JerryRioux if I had chosen to spotlight all of Microsoft's highlights in 40 years, I'd be writing throughout the next week! Though with that kind of time, I would have chosen to include Win 3.1, 7 and Xbox among Microsoft's other big successes. I remember using WordPerfect when I was younger and liked it, but it was no competition for Word combined with the rest of the Office suite.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 11:28:54 AM
Re: A couple of hardware products
@pablo great point, Xbox was another big hit from Microsoft. The ergonomic keyboard is also worthy of inclusion among its best products... I smell a follow-up list in the making.
fuller_douglas
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fuller_douglas,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 11:39:21 AM
Microsoft at 40
There is no mention of Datacenter products. What about Windows Server, MS SQL Server, IIS and Exchange? A huge number of companies run their businesses on these products. Of course there have been misses here as well. SharePoint has never delivered what it should have
NedH549
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NedH549,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 12:32:37 PM
Re: Tough Critic
What?  No mension of VISTA??
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 12:53:38 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
In the business space, Vista was definitely a problem. At least until the first big service pack came out. After that, it was a decent OS. I would argue ME was far worse than Vista, even on day one.
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